Growing up on the Big Island of Hawaii, Dr. Kara Cadwallader says her entire family was cared for by an excellent family medicine doctor in their rural town. “His gentleness and wisdom shaped the way I thought health care could be delivered, with empathy and the whole-person/family/community in mind.”
But she also saw rampant health disparities up close which drew her into primary medical care and a lifetime of advocacy. “It was culturally VERY diverse and geographically beautiful and wild. But there was also poor access to health care for many indigenous peoples and I decided to work to change that, in some small way.”
After graduating from the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine in 1995, Dr. Cadwallader completed her residency at Tacoma Family Medicine, through the University of Washington. She then served as an assistant clinical professor and primary care provider in Santa Rosa before completing a faculty development fellowship at U.W. with a focus on teaching applications of evidenced-based medicine. Eventually she joined the Family Medicine Residency of Idaho faculty.
Since then, her career has been focused on teaching residents and promoting patient-centered care and access to broad spectrum reproductive health for all. She is the Chief Medical Officer for a large Planned Parenthood that includes six states in every time zone in the country. This allows her to partner with advocacy and social justice groups all over the nation: “The honor is not in the title but in the amazing colleagues that I get to work with every day. It is also challenging and gratifying to work in multiple states that have varying healthcare environments and needs.”
One of her proudest moments has been working with a group of “progressive, smart women” to promote social justice, environmental issues, and early childhood education in our local community. They formed an organic advocacy group that came out of the 2016 Women's March in Washington, D.C. Quoting Ruth Bader Ginsberg, she always tries to keep in mind what has become one of her mantras: “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you." Dr. Cadwallader says, “Doctors can have a very strong voice in advocacy, and it would be great to see more physicians getting involved in important issues in our community”
Having had the chance to be chair of Family Medicine at both Saint Alphonsus and St. Luke’s she has been struck by how few women there were in leadership proportionately. She hopes the community will mentor younger women to seek out leadership roles and have a greater voice, again quoting Ginsberg: “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn't be that women are the exception.” One of the best parts of her work is interacting with bright, creative learners who push her own knowledge and energetically work for change.
Connecting with people is one of the greatest joys as a physician for Dr. Cadwallader. She mentioned a special moment with a "difficult" patient with frequent admissions for complications from gastric bypass. She was rounding late in the evening and had the time to sit down at his bedside. “He asked me if I wanted to see pictures of his kids and grandkids...and we sat and looked at them, and he told stories and I just listened, and it hit me that he had a rich life outside of the hospital. And it made it much less frustrating to not be able to fix his medical problems.”
She enjoys adventuring outside of the clinic with her three kids and counts hiking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu and heli-skiing in the British Columbia with them as a high pleasure. But she also spends time on land, road and mountain biking and Nordic skiing, and also underwater SCUBA diving.